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An Intimate Portrait of a Baltimore Neighborhood

Photographer Jen DuMars gives viewers a day-to-day look at life in Charles Village.

For the last two years, Jen DuMars has been keeping her own "Urban Diary" of Baltimore's Charles Village. DuMars uses her camera to get to know her surroundings, capturing the architecture, eccentricities, and occasional scars. "Documenting my surroundings has made it feel more familiar," says DuMars. "The more time I spend outside on the street, the more it feels like my home."

The results often feel intimate. DuMars gives viewers an up-close and comfortable sense of what it's like to actually be there. We talked with DuMars about how she approaches her work and how she finds new subjects in the same neighborhood: 

How would you describe your neighborhood to someone who isn't familiar with Baltimore?

Located in the center of the city, it is home to the Baltimore Museum of Art, Johns Hopkins, tree-lined streets, a diverse group of people and striking architecture. It is an excellent example of an old urbanist neighborhood. I know that sounds like a brochure. Someone I know describes it as hipster-nerd town. 

What inspired your Urban Diary project?

I’ve been photographing life around me on a daily basis since 2009. The Urban Diary project is what my obsessive shooting of the everyday became when I moved to Baltimore. In the beginning it was graffiti/street art hunting, shooting the same ever-changing surfaces. Focusing on these details led to shooting architecture, streets, cars, yards, signage, trash, etc. 

My commute to and from work is where I walk daily. There is one point of the walk where I start and end each workday. It is routine. My eyes are always open and after a certain point, I notice the slightest changes. 

I hope that my photos convey my fascination with routine, memory, the built environment and finding emotion in the inanimate. 

How has your perception of the neighborhood changed as you've continued to document it?

Before I moved here and began documenting, my perception of Charles Village was that I couldn’t afford to live here because all I knew of were the Painted Ladies (Victorian rowhouses). I was under the impression that the neighborhood was much smaller than it is. I wasn’t thinking about density in relation to urban design. I didn't notice certain things, like design aspects I have grown to appreciate such as short blocks and wide streets. 

A lot of your images seem to highlight very subtle quirks along a streetscape or a facade. What do you look for when you're photographing these places?

Anything that makes me think "why is that there?" or "how did that get there?" I'm drawn to things that strike me as peculiar or make me laugh. 

Is there something about your neighborhood's infrastructure that describes it best?

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is the wide alleys. They are more like streets. In fact, some of them are streets. There are alleys in every urban neighborhood, but for some reason the ones in Charles Village strike me as unique. I like the views of the backs of these homes that I know have ornate exteriors facing the street. Everything looks the same for the most part from behind. Some people have garages and others have gardens. I think the alleys reflect the eclectic nature of my neighborhood. 

All images courtesy Jen DuMars

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